As I am wont to do when I got nothing to do, I stayed up all night poking around online and thinking about random stuff. My mind turned to politics, and I decided to think about the generic two-dimensional political scale (with Authoritarian-Libertarian as a seperate axis from Liberal-Conservative). I realized something: I couldn’t come up with a cogent, satisfying difference between Liberal and Conservative that was completely orthogonal from the other axis. The terms are just too fuzzy, and tend to lump everyone towards the Authoritarian end of the spectrum (Liberals with state spending, Conservatives with hindrance of social progress).
Then I realized that a different axis would be much more appropriate than the overbroad Liberal-Conservative: Collectivist-Individualist. Collectivists think the good of the whole is best served by everyone helping everyone else (Jesus, Marx). Individualists think the good of the whole is best served by everyone competing for his or her own best interests (Smith, Rand). This transcends the Communist-Capitalist debate. Why? Communists are opposed to religion (opiate of the masses and all that), yet all religious societies fall squarely on the side of the scale that also holds Communism and Anarcho-Syndicalism (Anarchist communes). This is a feature: It represents a common view those two systems have about how people ought to interact in society.
Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts, shall we?[ul]
[li]Top left (Libertarian/Collectivist) are Anarcho-Syndicalists and Religious Communes: Government is bad, supreme power should rest on communites of people all working for a common good.[/li][li]Top right (Libertarian/Individualist) are Anarcho-Capitalists: Government is bad, supreme power should rest on individuals all competing for their own good.[/li][li]Bottom left (Authoritarian/Collectivist) are State Communists and Religious Dictatorships: People are bad, supreme power should rest on strong governments that depend on collective effort and a unified populace.[/li][li]Bottom right (Authoritarian/Individualist) are Fascists: People are bad, supreme power should rest on a strong government lead by a single strongman who allows economic competition.[/li][/ul]I realize that Fascism never had a cogent economic theory, just a lot of Marx-bashing. But my definition basically fits the two Fascist governments we’ve been able to observe (Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy). (Fascism, in a pure form, is purely a mid-twentieth-century invention, and let’s hope it stays that way. The other governments that could replace Fascism on my scale are Absolute Monarchy or, possibly, Military Dictatorship. First is dead now, too, and second more closely resembles gangland than government.)
Finally, my scale opens up an optional third dimension: Social Progressivism/Social Conservatism. That would seperate religious governments from Communists and Socialists, and would help to differentiate the different breeds of Communists and Socialists.
Why is this here? Because it’s more of a ‘neat idea’ than a debate topic, I think, and we can have some fun trying to place ourselves on the two- or three-dimensional version.
I’ve seen similar scales before (although I’ve always preferred axes based on attitudes towards social issues and economic issues), but I have to ask why fascism is listed as strongly individualistic? In practice, surely, fascist states have emphasised the common good and ‘the fatherland/motherland’ as more important than any individual’s needs or rights.
In other words, how are you defining ‘collectivist’ and ‘individualist’? In terms of where sovereignty lies, or in terms of which set of rights and duties takes priority?
Good thread, Derleth! Always did have problems with the tacit assumption that “we don’t need no steenking definitions” re: liberal/conservative, and adding the libertarian/authoritarian dimension didn’t really fix that.
In your 3D political cubemap, I’m clearly top= libertarian (downright anarchist) and, uhhh…out away from the screen, shall we say, socially progressive (definitely neohippie/anti-“old morality”)…but I’m not sure how to place myself left to right on your collectivist/individualist line. I’m a firm believer in the necessity of having a shared moral gestalt about the collective good and active participation, pulling one’s own weight, etc., but I believe that while individuals may seek ideal social systems and place a high value on social responsibilities and a sense of community, social systems per se do not necessarily generate the maximum freedom or the most fulfilling experiences for their individuals. On the other hand, you’ve equated individualism with competition, and I do not value or harbor a belief in competition as the principle of interaction between people – how about negotiated cooperation? Probably if you created a questionnaire such as many of those other sites have, I’d score on the right (individualist).
Crusoe: I’ve had similar problems, and the best I can come up with is ‘The Freedom to Fail’:
In a Communist system, poverty is a blasphemy against the collectivist ideal and is not allowed, so everyone is equally impoverished (except, in practice, the very top) so nobody is really ‘impoverished’. IOW, we all fail equally.
In a Fascist system, poverty is ignored or dealt with by the police. It is no more a ‘failure of the system’ than any other individual failing. The rich can get rich and the poor can be poor, and the state cares not a whit.
To answer your more general question, Crusoe (goddamn reading comprehension of mine), it is where responsibilities lie: Collectivist societies will support slackers out of some religious/political creed, whereas Individualist societies will be more inclined to let slackers face their own consequences.
AHunter, competition is simply the natural result of two people each wanting what is best for themselves and having to deal with each other to get it. A purchase is a kind of competition: You try to get the best value for your money, the salesman tries to get the most money for his product. It can easily be within negotiated rules, but the negotiation is itself a competition. ‘Negoitiated cooperation’ does not really solve the problem: The need for a negotiation implies a competition, and whatever happens after that competition is a result of competition (that is, each party getting the most it can get away with without pissing off the other party). Competition goes with individualism by definition, in my book.
I disagree, Derleth. While the need for negotiation implies a plural number of people each free to pursue their own wants and desires in their own fashion, competition implies that one person’s success comes at the expense of another, that in order to have success there must be failure somewhere, that winners are winners by virtue of having beaten others who have therefore lost. (That’s what we mean by “competition” in the context of competitive sports).
AHunter3: I don’t agree with your definition, but I do agree that it isn’t always a zero-sum scenario. I don’t know of another word to replace ‘competition’ in the sense of ‘two or more groups each trying to get the best for themselves while dealing with each other’. In other words, the kind of dealings Capitalism is built on: Not always zero-sum, but each person is self-serving.
The real economy is positive-sum, by the way. That’s why it works.
OK, there’s no point in having a long acrimonious debate if we’re just having a difference of opinions about what word to apply to a situation we agree is indeed the situation.
Would you agree with the statement that individual self-interest of one individual need not conflict with individual self-interest of other individuals, and, therefore, the interests of the collectivity? (Although they obviously could)?
That is the sense in which I am an individualist. I mean, it may also be true that the “best interests of the collectivity” need not conflict with individual self-interest on the part of all of the individuals, but the problem here is that there is no collectivity-as-entity to express those interests in the first place. Collective consciousness is always a process, and if individual freedom and self-interest is not already maximized, that process will not adequately reflect and incorporate those individual interests. So (I think) you start with the individual and derive the social system and the collective good from maximum individual freedom and opportunity for individual self-fulfillment.
I just don’t normally associate any of that with the word “competition”.
Of course I wouldn’t dispute that. That’s the foundation of Caplitalism: The baker getting a good deal on his bread coincides with me getting a fresh-baked loaf for my meal. Two self-serving agents helped each other get what they wanted.
Hey, you’ve just defined my basic political philosophy!